This project targets underserved, elderly (60+) refugees who will arrive or already live in northeastern Illinois. It links them to Older Americans Act (OAA) services and places them on the path towards engagement and citizenship, which are keys to a quality life and income security. Seven resettlement agencies will serve a total of 300 elderly refugees.
Elderly refugees will be linked to Older Americans Act (OAA) services by cross training case workers from the refugee resettlement and aging services networks. Resettlement agency staff will learn what services and programs are available through the OAA and through Illinois state programs for seniors and how to refer refugees to these services. Aging services case workers will learn about the special needs of elderly refugees and develop cultural competencies for effective service delivery to elderly refugees.
Elderly refugees will be enrolled in language and civics classes which prepare them for naturalization. Classes will be offered at two levels, depending on each refugee’s initial level of English proficiency, and will utilize a curriculum designed for older learners who are low-literate in their native language (Bright Ideas). Lessons will focus on conversational English, daily life skills, and civics and community engagement.
Participation in Bright Ideas early in the resettlement process will provide socialization, peer support, and purposefulness to counter the isolation and depression which threaten many elderly, but especially refugee elderly. Most students will participate in these classes for one to four years before transitioning to Citizenship classes during the last two years before they become eligible to apply for naturalization.
Who is a Refugee?
The United Nations defines a refugee as a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
In real life, many refugees have fled their lifelong homes at a moment’s notice; seen or experienced war, trauma, and/or torture; and/or spent months, years, or even decades living in unsafe or unsanitary refugee camps without knowing if they will ever be able to leave or return to their home country. Unlike immigrants who choose to leave their home country seeking a better life for themselves or their family, refugees are forced to leave their home under duress. Most refugees are forced to abandon their homes, savings, and any other material assets they may own. Refugees who can never safely return home do not choose where they are to be resettled. The U.S. State Department determines how many and which individuals are permitted to settle in the United States. These individuals are required to pay for their airfare to the United States, usually in installments after they arrive and become employed. Most of them arrive with no financial resources and, with little or no English, few prospects for employment above minimum wage.
Resettlement in a strange, new country and the need to learn a new language can be especially difficult for elderly refugees. Resettlement services have historically focused on meeting basic needs for food and shelter, helping families enroll their children in school, and assisting working age adults with finding employment. Without age-appropriate support, many newly arrived refugee elders adapt poorly to their new lives and become depressed and socially isolated, either alone or within families where they rely on younger relatives to interpret and negotiate with the outside world for them. CLESE programs provide socialization, peer support, English proficiency, cultural adjustment, and case management so that refugee elders achieve citizenship, independence in their daily lives, and successful integration in their new communities.
How CLESE Supports Refugee Elders
CLESE developed the Bright Ideas ESL curriculum so that refugee elders could receive English-language instruction with their peers in an environment which matches the needs of older learners. Bright Ideas focuses on the immediate needs and interests of older adults, active participation, and problem solving. Lessons include field trips to the grocery, post office, and other neighborhood sites, and activities in which students practice asking for directions, making medical appointments by phone, finding good prices and healthy food in the grocery store, reporting symptoms to their doctor, and introducing themselves and making friends. Bright Ideas also includes lessons in civics which prepare students for citizenship.
With funding from the Refugee/Entrant Social Services (RSS) program, CLESE has trained and assisted case managers at Catholic Charities, the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago, Heartland Health Alliance, Jewish Child and Family Services, RefugeeOne, and World Relief who are dedicated to meeting the needs of refugee elders. CLESE has trained mainstream senior service providers to ensure that refugee elders receive services for which they are eligible and which maintain quality of life and independence for all seniors. This project targets underserved, elderly (60+) refugees who will arrive or already live in northeastern Illinois. It links them to Older Americans Act (OAA) services and places them on the path towards engagement and citizenship, which are keys to a quality life and income security. Seven resettlement agencies serve few hundred elderly refugees every year. Elderly refugees are linked to Older Americans Act (OAA) services by cross training case workers from the refugee resettlement and aging services networks. Resettlement agency staff learns what services and programs are available through the OAA and through Illinois state programs for seniors and how to refer refugees to these services. Aging services case workers learn about the special needs of elderly refugees and develop cultural competencies for effective service delivery to elderly refugees.
The Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program (RAPP) supports gardening and farming to promote health and economic independence for newly arrived refugees in targeted communities across the United States. Thank to the funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Resettlement Services, CLESE brought RAPP to Chicago to provide meaningful engagement for refugee elders and to support the traditional roles of elders as providers and teachers within many refugee families. By matching the agricultural expertise of refugees from rural backgrounds with training about urban farming in a temperate climate, RAPP builds on the strengths of refugee families and enables them to create their own income and food security here in the United States.
Coalition of Limited English Speaking Elderly (CLESE)
53 West Jackson, Suite 1301
Chicago, IL 60604
312-461-0812 / 312-461-1466 (fax)